Coach Kubiak is not the only pro coach who is oblivious to the geometry of field-goal kicking. When Billy Cundiff, the right-footed, soccer-style placekicker for the Baltimore Ravens blew the field goal that could have sent the game into overtime, he was kicking under a handicap: he was kicking from the right hash-mark, and the kick came from ‘only’ the 22-yard line!
For a right-footed kicker whose kicks curve to the left, a kick from the right hash-mark presents a smaller target than a kick from the left hash-mark. (Rough estimate: from the 22-yard line, the target from the right hash mark is between 1 foot and 2 feet narrower than from the left hash-mark, depending upon the degree of right-to-left hook in the ball-flight. Ask any kicker how important a foot or two can be.) On top of that, aligning for the curvature of the ball-flight is more difficult from the right hash mark – the kicker must imagine a target-line that is somewhere outside of the uprights, rather than just targeting the right upright and waiting for the ball to hook toward the center.
Had the kick come from, say, the 45-yard line rather than the 22, the visualization of the target would have been much easier (the kicker could probably have just aimed at the right upright), and the narrowing of the target would have been minuscule – much less than a foot. Ironically, the shorter the kick, the more severe the problems. In reality, Coach Harbaugh, by shortening the kick (making yards, but not a touchdown) while ignoring the hash marks, gave his kicker a very difficult kick: a short kick from a sharp angle. Mr. Cundiff’s kick was certainly no “chip shot”, as many announcers and commentators chose to call it; it was much harder than it needed to have been.
Note to college coaches: the problem can be much worse at the college level, where the hash marks are 40’ apart rather than the mere 18’6” that separates the hash marks in the NFL. If the last play before a field-goal try is blown dead outside the hash marks, it is then placed on the nearest hash mark, which can result in a severe angle for the kick, meaning a severely-narrowed target (and a very difficult one to visualize) – especially, when the distance of the kick is shorter. There is probably no more difficult kick in all of football than a “short” field goal from the wrong hash mark in a college game.
Note to commentators: as any golfer would know, Mr. Cundiff did not “shank” the kick, he hooked it; hooks curve to the left, and shanks travel dead right. Hooks are at least manly; shanks are disgraceful.